The Senate has passed a bill that would allow Australia’s spy agency, ASIO, to intercept communications on behalf of Federal, State and Territory law enforcement agencies.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Act 2010 was re-introduced by the Attorney-General in the House of Representatives on 30 September, after the 2010 Federal Election.
It sought to facilitate cooperation between ASIO, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation.
Under the proposed amendments, ASIO would be able to share its information with other intelligence agencies and the broader national security community.
Law enforcement agencies would receive additional powers to access and use data such as call records to assist in finding missing persons.
Carriers and service providers would also be required to inform the Government of any proposed technological changes that may affect its interceptive capabilities.
The bill was passed by the House of Representatives last October and by the Senate this morning, despite fierce opposition from the Australian Greens.
Highlighting “grave concerns” raised by the Law Council of Australia and Australian Privacy Foundation in a 2010 Senate Inquiry (pdf), Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the bill gave ASIO “too much power”.
“ASIO will be able to be brought in by any other agency to investigate virtually anything at all,” he stated. “The Law Council warned that ASIO ‘should not be regarded as a mercenary force available on request’.”
The Greens had proposed that the Act be amended to require ASIO to report the number of requests for assistance it received annually, the names of agencies making the requests, and the purpose for which each request was made.
However, that proposal was rejected in a vote of 33 to five today.
“ASIO argues that secrecy is necessary for the kind of work that it does,” Ludlam said. “It is for that reason that we do not want to expand the mandate of ASIO into areas like tax law or welfare law.”